I have to admit, behind my excitement and anticipation for what was to come, when I boarded my plane to Germany and waved goodbye to Australia there was also quite a lot of fear. I was scared of not fitting in, I was scared of missing home and I was scared of what a new stable would be like to work in.
I have visited Europe many times but never Germany and never as a rider. Most times I have travelled I have had my trusty tour guide, interpreter, itinerary planner and menu decipherer multilingual Dad. He is an expert in filling out forms, duty free shopping, driving on both sides of the road, making sense of bus/train timetables, travelling on public transport with huge suitcases and finding the best sales to fill said suitcases. This time I was out on my own and it was more than a little bit daunting at first!
I hit the ground running with the head cold from hell, courtesy of the 24 hour plane trip; jetlag which had me wide awake at 3am and crashing at 3pm for the first week; and sickening nerves from the anticipation of an opportunity dreams are made of.
I couldn’t be happier to say that within my first day all my fears were erased – so far Germany has been INCREDIBLE!
First I have to thank the entire team at McLean Reitsport for making me feel so at home – I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to live and work with. The girls are passionate about dressage and the horses’ welfare. They have welcomed me into the team like I’ve always been a part of it and I love working with them. Sharing a one-bathroom house with five other girls is like a permanent slumber-party so it’s a testament to the great group of people here that everyone gets along and the team works like a well-oiled machine.
The quality of horses here is better than I ever anticipated. I have been lucky enough to sit on a variety of horses from seven year olds to grand prix and each has offered me a different lesson to learn. I am starting to understand the feel that I want to train and the seat I want to develop. My key focus at the moment is to develop my position to be strong, correct and effective. I am also learning to find the ‘golden middle’ between pushing and holding. Being surrounded by quality horses and trainers is the best motivation a girl can ask for – onwards and upwards from here! I can’t thank enough my super super support team back home, including everyone at the AEBC, for making this trip possible for me. I am so incredibly lucky!
I have found that just like the stables I have worked in at home, cleanliness and order is paramount in maintaining a professional stable. McLean Reitsport is a big, international business with approximately forty horses in work from breakers to grand prix including mares, geldings and stallions owned by clients from all around the world. As expected the hours are long for everyone but the team here are great and committed to caring for the horses no matter the time it takes. There is a separate team in charge of the general stable duties so my job includes preparing horses for the head riders, attending to the veterinary needs of the horses, warming horses up, maintaining all of the gear and assisting vets, farriers etc. I have been lucky enough to do ground work with a number of horses – a skill I learned at the AEBC which is thoroughly rewarding and more useful than I could have ever anticipated! There are some new toys here to play with – the horse walker and the solarium were very foreign to me when I first arrived but I am starting to really enjoy using them (especially the solarium on cold nights!).
I have lived overseas before, having participated in a high school exchange program to France. However, the key difference was that I speak French. Whilst everyone I am living and working with speaks English, all of the signs and products are labelled in German which is quickly teaching me to order food from pictures and just ‘smile and nod’ whenever I’m at a checkout.
I have been for a drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Shout out to one of my patient housemates Emmi for being brave enough to get into the car with me and only screaming a little bit when I nearly ran into the gutter. It took me a few attempts to master having the gear stick in my right hand but it’s starting to feel almost safe.
The stable is a truly multicultural environment. McLean Reitsport is made up of riders from Australia and Finland but we have a number of people from other countries including Greece and Germany coming through as riders, buyers, farriers etc. on a daily basis – I am beginning to wish I’d learned a few more languages!
Last week I went to the local hardware store with a couple of the girls – to my delight the basement of the store revealed one of the biggest saddleries I have ever seen! I was in heaven – if only every Bunnings was like this at home! Whilst none of the other girls seem to share my passion for dressing horses in bright colours, this saddlery had a whole wall of bandages in every colour of the rainbow – maybe they are just for me.
Arriving in Europe in March means the transition from Winter to Spring and the beginning of the new dressage season so a very interesting time. Riders are preparing for events ranging from local practice shows to international tours in preparation for the European Championships. One of the girls here is a member of the Finnish Young Rider Team so I am learning a lot about how the European Young Rider scene works which is very interesting and motivating! Arriving at this time also means I am learning to adjust to 1 degree mornings which become “sunny” 15 degree days and I can now fully appreciate when people warned me about the need to wear layers.
When making the final decisions on what to bring and what to leave behind I decided high heels were probably not going to be essential when working with horses five and a half days a week – oh how wrong I was! I learned quick smart I can definitely not live without my heels – thank god the girls introduced me to a local shoe shop so I could rectify this situation! A girl can only be expected to live without so much 😉
I also owe a big thank you to Raenor Priest for her education throughout my life in everything equestrian – from black Shetland ponies in dress ups to eventing state championships she has played an irreplaceable role in getting me where I stand today. Thank you for the hours of ground work, wiggly lines and grids! Also thank you for now making my mum a soccer mum again in my absence – I think watching adolescent boys instead of primary school girls and not washing jerseys is a welcome change for her.
This week we will be visiting Equitana and with upcoming shows and learning more about riding and training every day, motivation is at an absolute maximum! For now I have a few photos of the stables and the local area but I promise to keep you updated as my German adventure evolves.
Until next time – happy riding!